Grant Cook inquest: Coroner recommends head injury training after footballer's death
An inquest has handed down its findings on why a young father collapsed on a northern NSW rugby league field in 2016.
But it is unlikely a more thorough check would have saved Grant Cook’s life due to a lack of medical equipment, expertise and policies in place at Murwillumbah’s ground on September 11, 2016.
Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee has recommended NSWRL roll out robust training to players and staff on how to identify and treat head injuries following the father-of-two’s tragic death.
Mr Cook died in Gold Coast University Hospital after collapsing on the sideline and suffering a seizure during the Murwillumbah Mustangs’ A-grade preliminary final against Casino Cougars.
The 28-year-old was seen lagging behind play and rubbing his head late in the first half after being tackled while attempting a chip-and-chase.
An inquest heard of Mr Cook falling back and hitting his head on the ground following the collision with the Cougars defender, which Mr Lee found was the likely cause of his distress on the field.
Mr Cook’s father Geoff, a spectator at the game, told the inquest his son’s wife Colleen had remarked to him: “We need to watch him (Grant). He doesn’t look well.”
Witnesses observed him play on and make a tackle before wandering over to the bench, where he suffered a seizure and cardiac arrest.
Mr Lee has ruled Mr Cook’s cause of death was a hypoxic brain injury as a result of respiratory arrest following an accidental brain injury he picked up in the tackle.
He said evidence from the club’s head trainer Kevin Spencer, who performed a quick on-field inspection of Mr Cook, showed his assessment was limited to telling the player to “stay down” in the hope of a penalty.
Mr Spencer told the inquest he had no concerns about a possible head injury at the time as he didn’t know exactly where Mr Cook had been hit.
“He just looked a bit dazed and just said he was right,” he said.
Mr Lee said he had no adverse comment for Mr Spencer or the club trainers.
Instead, he highlighted evidence from Country Rugby League operations manager Bert Lowrie, who said the association did not have its own policy for the detection and management of head injuries.
No life support equipment was available at the ground, but even if it was there was no one trained in how to use such equipment, Mr Lee found.
It took 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive on the scene after first being called, which the coroner found was acceptable in the circumstances, but he was critical of the questions asked by the triple-0 operator.
He said the operator should have pressed the caller on a comment that Mr Cook was “snoring” rather than breathing, as that can be an indicator of an obstructed airway.
Mr Lee has also recommended NSW Ambulance instruct staff to elicit as much information as possible from callers in circumstances of possible traumatic injury.
Following Mr Cook’s death, the Mustangs went on to win the grand final in an emotional tribute to their fallen friend.